Native advertising: winners, losers and a lot of hype

“Native advertising” is catnip to the publishing world these days. For believers, the ad format offers a marketing trifecta: a boost for brands, extra income for websites and a better experience for readers.

Felix Salmon, a popular and acerbic Reuters journalist, attempted to pour some cold water on the hype at paidContent Live Wednesday, where he spoke with a panel of native advertising apostles that included BuzzFeed President Jon Steinberg and Forbes COO Lewis D’Vorkin.

“So one percent of the time I’ll immerse myself in this beautiful listicle of cats?” asked Salmon, in reference to BuzzFeed’s promise to create ads that look and feel like the content surrouding them. Steinberg, who retorted that a very small percentage of BuzzFeed’s branded content contains cats, emphasized that native ads are superior because readers not only like them, but share them too. D’Vorkin offered a longer view.

“This is has been going on for 10-15 years … Marketers want to be seamlessly intergrated into a native product,” he said, adding that corporations spent lots of money to attract readers to their own websites before realizing it was more effective to integrate with famous media brands.

“Media partners give us credibility we can’t get on our own,” said Kyle Monson, the third member of the panel and chief creative at Knock Twice ad agency. He added, however, that native ads “can be shady sometimes” and said agencies should try to protect their publishing partners.

“Chef Boyardee put native ads on the Food Network. It’s a horribly bad deal … it’s way too downmarket for them.”

And what about the fear that native ads are deceptive? Nonsense, Steinberg said, noting that no reader will be confused since the ads are clearly marked and even a different color.

He also claimed the banner and programmatic ad industry has cooked up false tales of reader confusion on the fear that they are losing ground to native advertising.

Salmon had the last word in the native advertising debate.

“We’ve run out of time, so you get to talk English right now,” he joked, ending the panel.

(Update: I’ve removed an earlier sentence that said Steinberg exaggerated the problems of display advertising; you can make up your own mind based on the video below)

Check out the rest of our paidContent live 2013 coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

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A transcription of the video follows on the next page